Sunday Business Post journalist and author of 'Tactics not Passion' Emmet Ryan on this weekend's big game
The unbeaten streak of Jim Gavin's charges is picking up far too many asterisks of late.
Tyrone came close to ending the run but had to settle for a share of the spoils. A late, questionable, free earned Donegal a point last weekend and also ensured their unbeaten run in Ballybofey remained intact. No records ended, nothing broken, and a severe lack of drama.
This weekend Dublin face a side they are all too familiar with when it comes to a comh-scór or two. Mayo brought Dublin to replays in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final and last year's final respectively before eventually succumbing. Right now a defeat might, cliché ridden as it is, be exactly what Dublin need.
Considering how open some of the games in the early part of the Allianz Football League campaign have been across the four divisions, the one side that was guaranteed to deliver February football in its truest sense last month was Dublin. Gavin is looking at the long game, the only title that matters for Dublin is the one decided in September, and he wants his side to be ready for the more grinding games that come at that time of year. Having broken a near 40 year wait for back to back All-Irelands last year, Gavin now has his eyes on Dublin’s first three-peat since the 1921-1923 side that featured the great Joe Norris.
Aesthetically it's not exactly a delight but neutrals could live with that if it didn't feel quite so formative. Dublin's focus on process makes these games feel more like training drills than actual contests, is like trying to watch a play through rehearsals. The process is important but the end product is what we want to actually see.
Fortunately, in Mayo, Dublin have an opponent where we should expect a proper tussle on both sides. The enmity between these sides is legitimate and, while not matching Kerry or Galway as each county's historic rival, is the battle neither side wants to give an inch on in the current era. Dublin would consider losing to Kerry a tragedy, as Mayo would to the Tribesmen, but both take a back-seat with these panels when it comes to their direct clashes.
Dublin have, comfortably, been the richer of the two in this rivalry since it properly kicked off with the current crop of players in 2012. While Mayo landed the big blows early, its Dublin who have seen the glory in the years since and taken down Mayo en route to three All-Ireland titles in four seasons.
For Stephen Rochford, this game won't mean his side will win it all in September but it will lay a marker down about how seriously they take this season. Any blow against Dublin will be good for this side's psyche and, crucially, a win here would mean Dublin will have dropped four points from eight. That would put Gavin's hopes or retaining the league crown in serious jeopardy.
Losing this crown or the unbeaten streak won't mean a lot to Gavin but losing to Mayo really would. Finally, he has a task on his docket that is more than just a means to advance the process. It's a challenge where the result is important to him. Finally, there's a Dublin game this season that is truly worth watching.